Van Valkenburg, Ellen R.

The sources presented as “Women Already Voters” were assembled to reconstruct events mentioned in a volume of the Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—specifically, in the second volume, Against an Aristocracy of Sex, 1865 to 1873.  For their insight into Reconstruction, however, the sources are useful for many more purposes.

“Women Already Voters” was a claim women made after the Civil War while they took direct action to test its truth.  Around them, men in Congress and the press debated how far the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments reached in protecting citizens’ rights and what linked citizenship to voting rights.  At the moment in American history when former slaves became citizens and the men among them became voters, white and black women hoped to walk through the door to political participation.  They embraced the idea that the United States could eliminate from fundamental law all distinctions of sex while eliminating distinctions of race.

In at least twenty-two of the United States, hundreds of women tried to register to vote and tried to cast ballots, assisted by family and friends in their communities. The cases here were the best known of this social movement.  With one exception, the women in this group were stopped by local officials or state courts or federal courts or federal marshals or justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, but they took their cause to the courts.  Through their cases, defense attorneys raised difficult questions about discrimination and constructed expansive definitions of rights, while prosecutors and judges settled the constitutional questions by reasserting male prerogatives and, in the end, extolling a category of citizenship without political rights, suitable to women. For a working list of the hundreds of women who tried to vote between 1868 and 1873 but never contested their exclusion, see

Most credit for the work amassing this collection goes to Susan I. Johns.  Danielle Bradley and Katharine Lee made this presentation of the sources possible.  Ann D. Gordon, editor of the papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is responsible for omissions and errors.

Ellen Rand Perkins Van Valkenburg (1827–?), though born in New York City, had lived in California since her marriage in 1853 to a gold dust buyer in San Francisco named Henry S. Van Valkenburg. Her husband's repeated involvement with the shadier sides of local banking may have led to their move to Santa Cruz in 1860, where Henry founded the San Lorenzo Paper Mill. He was killed by a falling tree in 1862 while Ellen was pregnant with their third child. Ellen Van Valkenburg was a founder in 1869 of the local woman suffrage association, and when that society decided to test the state's disfranchisement of women, she was the person who asked to be registered as a voter. In Santa Cruz, local officials cooperated with suffragists. The county clerk, Albert Brown, invited women to register but then refused to enter Ellen's name; the county judge acted as her attorney in a petition to the district court for a writ of mandamus to compel the clerk to enroll her. The adverse decision in the case came while Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were in town. Ellen Van Valkenburg appealed her case to the state supreme court in the January term of 1872.

Albert Hagan (c. 1842–?) was the elected judge of Santa Cruz County from 1867 to 1871 and Van Valkenburg's attorney. Later in life he was the court reporter for the supreme court of Utah Territory. Of his argument in district court, the evidence is a sentence in the local newspaper about his reference to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments.  Samuel Bell McKee (c. 1822–?), a Democrat from Oakland, was the elected judge of the state's Third Judicial District, County of Santa Cruz, to whom Ellen Van Valkenburg applied for a writ of mandamus to compel Albert Brown to register her. The Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed women their civil rights, McKee reasoned, "but it conferred on them no political rights." The Fifteenth Amendment was a special act confined strictly to males who had been slaves.

Hagan appealed Ellen R. Van Valkenburg v. Albert Brown to the state supreme court, arguing that women had a right to vote under the Constitution by virtue of their absolute rights as citizens of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment. Among those rights, as recognized in the Fifteenth Amendment, was the right to vote.  In the January term of 1872 the chief justice affirmed the judgment of the district court that women were not entitled to vote.

Albert Hagan, In the Supreme Court of the State of California, Ellen R. Van Valkenburg . . . vs. Albert Brown . . . Brief of Appellant (Santa Cruz, Calif., n.d.).

Created by Katharine Lee .
Last edited by Danielle Bradley .